PRESS EDITORIAL: A traffic problem to make Port proud

What should be done about the traffic that seizes up Port Washington’s downtown?

City officials asked that question at a meeting of the Traffic Safety Committee amid an air of frustration over the congestion that takes over Franklin Street on some days.

So, what to do?

Here is the answer from the newspaper that has been a downtown resident for nigh onto 80 years in our headquarters building half a block from Franklin Street: Absolutely nothing.        Port Washington has the downtown it always wanted. Relax and enjoy it.

The traffic chaos is real, and it can be irritating, but look at it this way: It’s a sign of the commercial and cultural vitality the community needs.

True, the scene on summer Saturdays, when the farmers market is open and marina traffic and tourist visits are at their peaks, has elements of a multiple-ring circus.

Parking places on both sides of Franklin Street are packed chock-a-block. Between them, cars and pickup trucks creep in a bumper-to-bumper stream, stopping frequently for street-crossing pedestrians and vehicles waiting to turn or laboriously attempting to execute a parallel parking maneuver when a coveted space opens up, navigating around bicycle riders and the occasional runner in the street who for some hard-to-fathom reason would rather dodge motor vehicles than walkers.

Pedestrians rule and take full advantage of their authority, crossing the street when the spirit moves them, often in the company of pets and strollers, some at a crawling pace while engaged in conversations with friends or even cellphone tasks, as drivers wait with apparent courtesy if not patience.

Some drivers are so tolerant they stop and wave mid-block jaywalkers across.

The flow of pedestrian traffic adds to the difficulty of transiting the downtown in a vehicle, of course, but it’s welcome progress from the days when getting across Franklin Street on foot could be a life-threatening experience.

City traffic planners invited this sort of bustling busyness when they called for narrowed driving lanes and widened sidewalks in the rebuilding of Franklin Street more than a decade ago. Needless to say, they’ve succeeded.

They probably didn’t plan on the collisions that occur every now and then at the Washington Street and Main Street intersections, however.

Most of these have been blamed on inattentive driving, but perhaps only because “frustrated driving” isn’t on the crash-cause list.

Turning left onto Franklin or crossing it can be a maddening exercise, and not just because of the traffic volume.

When Franklin Street parking lanes are full, visibility for drivers attempting to cross or turn onto the street is meager at best. It’s not hard to imagine some long-idling drivers saying, “To heck with this, I’m going for it.” Oops, screech, stop, maybe fender bender.

You can’t blame members of the Traffic Safety Committee for expressing some alarm; after all, it’s their job. But a little irritation and frustration aren’t really safety threats.

The collisions are unfortunate, but they’ve been minor (probably because traffic moves so slowly), and with less than 20 in the past seven years, they hardly constitute an alarming trend.

Still, some potential remedial actions have been aired, such as: making Franklin a one-way street (a surefire way to ignite a merchants’ revolt), banning left turns (hard to enforce) and posting more parking restriction signs (sure to be ignored).

The best advice on the Franklin Street conundrum came from the man who is a commander on the front lines of the traffic-control wars, Police Chief Kevin Hingiss.

The chief downplayed the need for further restrictions and offered the opinion that, all things considered, drivers are adapting quite well to the congestion.

“It seems to me,” he said, “people are being cautious.”

He also recommended a practice long used by savvy motorists in high-traffic areas, including UPS drivers in big cities: Just turn right onto busy streets like Franklin.

You can always get to your destination by turning left later.

For Port Washington, worrying about downtown traffic congestion is a luxury.

Many communities would love to have this city’s traffic woes.

Unlike many small towns, Port has reinvented its downtown as a vibrant community center that attracts people for the sheer pleasure of being there.

It was not that long ago that the Port Washington downtown was thought to be dying—empty storefronts, cars speeding on a wide, mostly empty street, the few pedestrians present sometimes at peril crossing the street.

Now it’s so alive and appealing that it sometimes gets clogged with traffic.

That’s not a problem. It’s a sign of success.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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